Category Archives: Branding

Does Brand Value Live Beyond the Grave?

enduring-value-brands-Lehman-BrothersI was most amused when reading about a new Scotch whisky that now carries the Lehman Brothers name. The product is called “Ashes of Disaster,” so is clearly meant to evoke memories of the failed financial services company. As a reminder, some consider the failing of Lehman Brothers the catalyst that triggered the 2008 global financial meltdown.

According James Green, a 34-year-old London entrepreneur that is launching the whisky, “It has a contrite, bereft peatiness,” as quoted from the Wall Street Journal article. Mr. Green plans to offer his spirits online and has gotten orders from bars in London and New York.

Who Owns a Brand Name Once a Company is Gone?

My curiosity was focused on a few aspects of this story. To start, there is the legal ownership question of the name. Barclays PLC bought parts of the firm in bankruptcy – and as you might have guessed, in 2014 tried to block Mr. Green’s using the name. According to the article, Barclays PLC said in the U.S. trademark filings that it “has a bona fide intention to use” the name for financial services. But, that wasn’t enough to stop Mr. Green’s endeavor.

I have a very basic understanding of trademarks. From what I know, even if Barclays PLC did open a new investment bank called “Lehman Brothers,” it still would not necessary preclude other businesses from using the name if the likelihood of confusion was minimal. In other words, if you ask for a Lehman Brothers whisky, most would not be confused to think you wanted to open up an IRA account at an investment bank instead.

Mr. Green has elected to use a name that invokes the reminder and feelings that we all felt (and experienced) at the time this financial firm failed. This is an important part of his awareness and branding strategy. In fact, unintentionally, I too am helping with his plight by writing this blog post (as are other journalists writing about this story).

I am not a lawyer, nor have I read the trademark filings, nor do I have visibility into exactly what Barclays PLC purchased. It could be the case that the assets they purchased did NOT include the brand’s name. If this were the case, then hats off to Mr. Green for having the insights and “chutzpa” to proceed forward.

Not the First Time

In credit to Barclays PLC, this is not the first time a company purchase has failed to include the appropriate trademarked or product names. Back in 1998, Volkswagen acquired Bentley Motors Limited, which at the time included both the Bentley and Rolls Royce motor car divisions (source).

What wasn’t recognized at the time, however, was that the name “Rolls Royce” was owned by the aircraft division, something that was not part of the deal. As you can imagine, this created an enormous problem, headache and embarrassment for VW. Fortunately, significant supply chain partners and future business opportunities were presented to help smooth the way. Their problem was ultimately resolved at a significant cost and with great complexity. Here is a detailed article for those who would like to read the whole story.

The Enormous Value of a Brand Name

What I find most interesting about the Lehman Brothers whiskey story is the fact that the two businesses are completely different – yet Mr. Green considers this name to be an important part of his go-to-market strategy. If this indeed the case (time will tell if he has success), then I would propose we need to completely re-think trademark law on company brand names. The value clearly extends for a wider scope of influence and, in this case, beyond the grave of when a high profile company went bankrupt.

In a similar note, the old adage of “any publicity is good publicity” might need to be updated or expanded upon. Perhaps any brand recognition is good too? Despite the fact that many, many people lost their jobs, their life savings and more when the original Lehman Brothers was dissolved, an entrepreneur looks to start a new business with the exact same name. If such a name tied to a terrible event can somehow be deemed worthy of launching a new product line, then I have a hard time figuring out if there can be any bad impact from a brand name, once it has become recognized on a global scale.

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Filed under Brand Integrity, Branding, Marketing Strategy

How Much Content Should You Share?

free_downloadIn the world of content marketing, every marketer must make a decision on what information should be provided openly, and what should require registration to access. Traditionalists will argue that the concept is straightforward – information that is more valuable should be deemed “worthy” of registration to gain access. With registration, however, comes an expectation of future follow up, be it in the form of a call or email from the sponsoring party. This knowledge dissuades the reading of your material, working against your desired objective.

Today these lines are blurring, which is causing some angst for those of us involved in content marketing.

What is the right balance? The answer is “it depends” … who are you are targeting, and what is your objective?

Who is Your Audience?

If you are targeting the millennials or younger audiences, forget about trying to gate any content you want them to actually read. They simply won’t do it. And, if they do, it will be with a “bogus” email address and contact information you won’t be able to use anyway. Here your best strategy is to post good content often and provide an easy way to share it across social media. This will get your message out. Over time, it will generate interest worthy of further discussion.

The next question is about what you want to accomplish.

What is Your Objective?

My experience has taught me that the decision to pursue content marketing really comes down to two reasons: Lead Generation or Branding. Of course, these goals are not always mutually exclusive. For the purpose of this article, let’s assume one objective can be seen as a primary goal.

If Lead Generation is your goal, then the purpose is to gain contact information for your target audience. That means some sort of registration is needed. But, that doesn’t mean registration is required for all material. Obviously, website content is listed openly for search engine indexing and visitors to read. The next level of interaction might be to offer more detailed or valuable content seen as valuable to your audience. An example might be a sponsored analyst market research report with data that is not readily available for free.

Dedicated landing pages should be prepared for such documents so you can best measure how many visitors landed on the page, and then how many of those visitors actually completed the form to access the content. Response rates can then be measured to evaluate if your message and content is appropriate, if it matches your audience’s expectations, as well as if it was deemed worthy enough to register to access.

But what about if your objective really isn’t to just collect names and contact info? What if you are trying to position yourself as a subject matter expert, which would then lead to new business? For example, what if you are a non-profit association serving your particular industry or market? What if the value you provide the marketplace is more based on influence or authority? And, if you can demonstrate you are an active, relevant voice in that marketplace, might it then be in your best advantage to openly publish content that is valuable?

Drawing the Line of Thought Leadership

It is under these circumstances that the decision of what to share gets tricky. If you are a “young” of new company, perhaps one that is still establishing itself in the marketplace, then providing access is probably more in your best interest to build street “credentials” and demonstrate you are a thought leader. Once you have built your brand awareness, however, then the research you perform will be deemed as highly valuable, and in most cases, worthy of purchase – beyond a simple registration page, but at a level where money is exchanged for your content.

A great example of a later stage company is Gartner, a research firm with 1,000+ analysts. Their reports are highly relevant and insightful – clients pay thousands of dollars a year to access this information. Gartner should not give away their content.

On the other end of the spectrum might be an industry trade association, say operating in an environment where significant industry changes are occurring and new competitive threats are now emerging. This type of organization might be short-sighted in believing that none of their content should be shared with the general public. At the current time, potential membership firms that aren’t yet a member are not likely to pay to gain access, but might be influenced to join if they believe such membership will position themselves (by association) as being part of a “leading” thought leadership group.

Another potential strategy is to release some of the information for free, and to request a different type of “payment” for the full report. This could take the form of providing three references, or to agree to participate in a future market research study. LNS Research has adopted this content marketing strategy, and has achieved success so far.

What is your strategy? Are there other options to consider? My recommendation is to adopt a blended strategy – give something away for free to entice engagement as well as please your younger audience. At the same time, other content should be at a level of value that your prospective audience is willing to “pay” in some way to then continue the engagement. Are there other ways to gate content such that a reasonable ROI on your content marketing program can be achieved? It would be great to hear from you.

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Filed under Branding, Content Marketing, Lead Generation, Marketing Strategy